The elusive human quality known as absolute pitch or “perfect pitch” is the ability to identify or recreate a musical note without a reference tone. Mozart and Beethoven are believed to have had it, as well as jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald, who was so spot-on that it’s rumored she was used as the tuning instrument for her band.
With no documented cases of adults developing the rare quality later in life, it is said to be a result of early exposure to music and only realized at a very young age. This prime window in which to gain the coveted musical quality is a result of plasticity in the brain and closes around age 7, but thanks to work from Harvard University’s professor of molecular and cellular biology Takao Hensch, we may soon have a prescription for that.
NPR reports that Hensch has been successful using valprioc acid to “reopen” the brain’s plasticity and allow it to absorb new information as easily as it did before age 7. A sample group of young males with no musical background whatsoever made measurable progress toward acquiring the talent widely thought unlearnable as an adult.
The drug is also being studied for learning other early “critical-period” developments like language, but with caution. In a side-effect straight out of a science fiction film, Hensch warns that this ability to “reopen” the brain should definitely not be tampered with. It’s likely that these “critical-periods” end and solidify, so to speak, for a reason, during which we become the people we are, and it’s possible this drug, if misused, could essentially undo the creation of a person’s very identity.
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